A major experimental program has been established at the Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories (CRL) that will provide essential data on the thermal and mechanical behaviour of nuclear fuel under abnormal reactor operating conditions and on the transient release, transport and deposition of fission product activity from severely degraded fuel. A number of severe fuel damage (SFD) experiments will be conducted within the Blowdown Test Facility (BTF) at CRL. A series of experiments are being conducted to commission this new facility prior to the SFD program. This paper describes the features and the commissioning program for the BTF. A development and testing program is described for critical components used on the reactor test section. In-reactor commissioning with a fuel assembly simulator commenced in 1989 June and preliminary results are given. The paper also outlines plans for future all-effects, in-reactor tests of CANDU-designed fuel. (author). 11 refs., 3 tabs., 7 figs.